Sunday, August 28, 2016

A Getaway to the Kingdom of the Birds

I was sitting and mulling over a book I needed to finish writing when I got a call from an old friend. S.K. Srinivas is an old friend in many aspects. He is chronologically, significantly older and a person I know from a number of years too. But the great part about him is that he is young at heart... only 2 stents inserted till now. He called to tell me about a birding trip with a Dr. Ilana and her husband around the outskirts of Bangalore. The destinations - Tailur tank, Kokkarebellur village, Ranganatittu Bird Sanctuary, Ramanagara Vulture Sanctuary and back. I was of course, all in. Old places to visit and new people to meet!! 

I remembered the old saying that what you intend with a true heart will come true. I really needed a break from my "routine" and was intending for something like this to happen. Voila! there was the call!! 

We were scheduled to do this trip on 11th August, 2016, a week from when I got the call. On the 11th, Srini as everyone calls him picked me up early in the morning. Accompanying him was Dr. Ilana. After the initial ice breakers, we found ourselves at the breakfast point - Kamat Lokaruchi, on Mysore road. We enjoyed a lovely and extensive breakfast (thanks to Srini's insightful inputs) and a hearty talk about South Indian food among other things. During this time I found 2 wasps mating behind the Golden Bamboo leaf. (Talk about intimate stuff happening behind the curtains!!)

 Soon after, we found ourselves at Tailur tank. There was unfortunately not much of a "tank" left. It used to be a huge water body filled with a large number of water fowl like ducks, teals, pelicans and cormorants, different herons among other waders like Sandpipers, Snipes, Ibises. Now, it is nothing but a large herding and grazing grounds for cattle.

But, birds have never failed us. We did find a lot of birds in and around the bushes and the lone tamarind tree. We caught a glimpse of the busy Coppersmith Barbet, the ever watchful fighter jet of the bird world - The small green Bee-eater, the songster - Ashy Prinia, the kingpin of the territory - The Indian Robin, the amazing architect - the Baya Weavers and a stray blue tailed Bee-eater. We also saw a large flock of Black Ibises ( the Pharaoh birds, akin to the god Thoth, the god of wisdom in Egyptian Mythology)

Enroute, among all the travel was some good talk right from birds, to weather, climate change, politics and international policies, bird races, places visited and more. We did stop for a bit next to an open field to catch a Black Drongo on the wire when we found this - 
a Eurasian Collared Dove having a mud bath in the open field. Right opposite to the open field was a couple of Baya Weaver nests freshly being made. 

By around 11 we were at the kokkrebellur village. Unfortunately for us, thanks to "development" a huge road was being built right through the village. We saw only the Indian Roller and nothing else. Kokkrebellur is a village famous for Painted Storks and Spot billed Pelicans nesting right in the middle of the village. Apart from these big birds, herons of various kinds, cormorants and smaller birds like tailorbirds, wagtails also reside in this village. This village became famous because the people of the village were the first of their kind to act conservators a number of years ago. They protect the birds vehemently. But on the day we were at the village, upon asking the human neighbors, found out that the birds had indeed "left the nest". With a heavy heart, three of us moved on the the temple outside the village. 
To our dismay, the temple had not only expanded, the lovely Mahua grove was almost gone. But the tamarind trees and a few Mahua trees were left giving a great canopy cover around the village. We did find a fine number of birds hidden in the canopy. Indian Grey Hornbills, Small Minivets, Great Tits (Yes, they are birds... not what anyone's guess would be) among other common birds like Red Whiskered Bulbuls and White cheeked Barbets. Some good willed folks had even replanted in the open barren areas around the temple we found out.Talk about medicine for a broken heart!! 

On the way out, we got a glimpse of a solitary Painted stork. It too soon disappeared in a flash. On the dry riverbed we spotted a Bronze winged Jacana, an Oriental White Ibis and a few Little Cormorants.

I must say, we were all indeed quite dejected at the turnover of events. We quickly made our way out of the town for lunch on the highway. After a slightly silent lunch (we were all VERY hungry indeed!) we moved on to Ranganatittu Bird Sanctuary. 

Rangantittu has changed considerably in the past few years. We were welcomed by a lot of cars and buses (not to mention a large of gathering of school girls who poured all their hospitality on Dr. Ilana). For us though, the most welcoming sign was from a lovely, tiny, cute little bird called the Tickell's Blue Flycatcher. He gave us a pose, sitting on the bamboo twig. We walked in front of him, under him, around him but he did not move. Here is one good memory of this gentle bird.

Soon after we saw this flycatcher, we caught a glimpse of another type of flycatcher - the White throated Fantail. There was a pair, foraging among the bamboo and the other shrubs. Dr. Ilana got to see one aspect of the hunting behavior of this lovely bird and I was happy to get the video of it doing so. You can see the video at this youtube link as well -

Apart from the birds we got to see some other interesting pieces of Nature's craftsmanship. One particular one that intrigued me immensely were the designs on the young bamboo. The coloration, the designs were just mind blowing. This particular bamboo showed all three stages of growth - young and growing (orange with black stripes), grown and mature(deep green) and old and dying/dead( brown and broken). One even showed the shoot tip which looked like a black flower.


The other thing that caught my attention was the Water Strider. This is an insect that floats on the water surface looking for prey under it. They have such thin and nimble feet that due to strong surface tension the legs don't sink Thus, keeping them afloat while their eyes are huge and located more towards the bottom of their body. This gives them a view from below and on the surface of the water. They have a long, strong proboscis which they keep flat under their bellies. This is their weapon for killing and a straw for drinking the insides of its prey.

It was a long day and we were tired. For a moment our feeling of resting for a while was reinforced by another old friend. This friend was sitting on the rock like a person who sits on the massage table in a sauna and spa and the grin on the face was like the massage was going on - the masseur , the sun! We felt that is was a good time for that, but we had to hit the road again... all the way back home. Here is a photo of this fellow enjoying itself.

On our way back, we bumped into a purple rumped sunbird couple on the Australian Bottlebrush tree. Next stop - Ramnagara Vulture Sanctuary.

At Ramnagara Vulture Sanctuary, we realized we were late. It was already 6:00 PM. We were informed that the sanctuary too has corporate time schedules - Morning 9:00 AM to evening 5:00 PM. These were vultures of a different culture I would say!! We did see 3 vultures though and that ended the day well. Srini, Dr. Ilana and I were tired and hungry, but the smiles on our faces were full of energy. We managed to find around 65 species of birds on our trip and now we were is dire need of refueling. It was 7:30 PM - dinner time. We stopped by a good restaurant quickly and quietly had something to eat and headed back home for a much needed rest.

In this whole trip, we had fun, we ran after birds, had good topics to talk about, exchanged notes and ideas. I would like to thank Srini and Dr. Ilana for this wonderful and insightful experience. I did sleep like a baby that night with all the memories floating around like fireflies, in my head.